Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 1 March 2014 | 3,691 times
There are two clearly defined frontiers of war going on in Africa which assumed much more broader perspective since the beginning of the year. These are the war on terror being waged in West and Central Africa and lastly the cultural cum legal war against persons with same sex orientation otherwise known as gays. We are today concentrating our intellectual focus on the second leg of these wars.
Nigeria, unarguably the largest black nation globally, in the first quarter of this year signed into law the anti-gay legislation prescribing 14-year jail sentence for offenders convicted of same sex relationship.
After two years of intense international pressure, both the Nigerian National Assembly and President Goodluck Jonathan proceeded with the mechanism which resulted in the signing into law the anti-gay legislation.
On validity and recognition of marriage, the then draft bill which has now culminated into a national law affirmed thus: “For the avoidance of doubt only marriage entered into between a man and a woman under the Marriage Act or under the Islamic and Customary laws are valid and recognised in Nigeria.”
The prohibition of same sex marriage in the bill covers the following: marriage between persons of the same sex and adoption of children by them in or out of a same sex marriage or relationship is prohibited in the Federal Republic of Nigeria; a licence issued by another state, country, foreign jurisdiction or otherwise shall be void in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The law further affirmed that marriage between persons of the same sex are invalid and shall not be recognised as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage and that any contractual or other rights granted to persons involved in same sex marriage or accruing to such persons by virtue of a license shall not be enforceable in any court of law in Nigeria.
The courts in Nigeria, according to the anti-gay law, shall have no jurisdiction to grant a divorce with regard or rule on any of their rights arising from or in connection with such marriage.
On non-recognition of same sex marriage, the draft bill states that marriage between persons of same sex entered into in any jurisdiction whether within or outside Nigeria; and other state or country or otherwise or any other location or relationship between persons of the same sex which are treated as marriage in any jurisdiction, whether within or outside Nigeria, are not recognised in Nigeria; all arms of government and agencies in the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not give effect to any public act, record or judicial proceeding within or outside Nigeria, with regard to same sex marriage or relationship or a claim arising from such marriage or relationship.
The bill also provides for the prohibition of registration of gay clubs and societies and publicity of same sex sexual relationship and affirms that; registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations by whatever name they are called in institutions from secondary to the tertiary level or other institutions in particular and, in Nigeria generally, by government agencies is hereby prohibited.
In what some of us consider as the most drastic aspect of the anti-gay law, the new law in Nigeria criminalises media reportage of gay sexual ceremonies thus: “publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria; and; any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship, directly or indirectly, in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of five years imprisonment.”
The law in Nigeria also states that any person who performs, witnesses, aids or abets the same sex marriage is of an offence and liable on conviction to a five-year prison term.
The legislation states that jurisdiction for the trial of alleged offenders of the law banning same sex marriage lies with the High Courts in the states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Since that bill that bans same sex marriage came to the public domain, controversy has trailed it, with some people condemning the action of the Federal Government and defending the “right” of gays and lesbians to marry in Nigeria.
Prior to the coming into being of the Nigeria’s variant of anti-gay law, both the British and United States governments threatened to deal diplomatically with Nigeria should it proceed with what they considered to be a draconian law.
But the more the Western powers wielded the big stick or issued verbal threats against Nigeria over the anti-gay law the more the Nigerian Government got public acclaim locally for standing by what is right.
Coming at a time that the frightening dimension of the destruction and violence unleashed by terrorists has created terrible image problem for the Nigerian Government, the signing into law of the anti-gay law was a major coup de grace which won popular acclaim for the government among the largely religious communities scattered all over Nigeria.
After accepting the reality on the ground in Nigeria, the focus of the Western powers shifted to Uganda where the government was said to be working on a piece of legislation that would even be more punitive than the Nigerian version.
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni whose ascension to political power through rebellion as far back as January 1986 was heavily aided by the United States Government, came under unprecedented gale of pressure from the American Government not to sign the anti-gay law which would send any same sex practitioner convicted to life jail.
United States President Mr. Barack Obama, personally appealed to the Ugandan strongman to discard the anti-gay law but the overwhelming public opinion of Ugandans favoured the signing into law of that legislation. Dramatically, the Ugandan Government sought and obtained scientific reports which prove that same sex orientation is congenital and not hereditary.
By 1pm on the dot, on February 24, 2014, a friend called me to give me the breaking news that the Uganda President had indeed defied the Western powers by proceeding to sign the anti-gay legislation into law.
The news of the signing into law of the anti-gay legislation in Uganda immediately became the hottest story in most global media. The British Broadcasting Corporation, through one of is reporters Catherine Byaruhanga in Uganda, said the government made a public show of the signing ceremony, which is rare in the history of Uganda.
A government spokesman said President Yoweri Museveni wanted to assert Uganda’s “independence in the face of Western pressure.”
Like in most African societies, even before the idea of making a body of legislation against same sex orientation, homosexual acts are already illegal.
The new law in Uganda punishes first-time offenders with 14 years in jail, and allows life imprisonment as the penalty for acts of “aggravated homosexuality.”
“Homosexuality is just bad behaviour that should not be allowed in our society,” MP David Bahati, one of those lawmakers that championed the new legislation, reportedly told the media.
Like the Nigerian version, the Ugandan anti-gay law also makes it a crime not to report gay people – in effect making it impossible to live as openly gay.
The law criminalises the “promotion” and even the mere “recognition” of homosexual relations “through or with the support of any government entity in Uganda or any other non-governmental organistion inside or outside the country.”
This action by Uganda is perhaps one more step in the widening battle and cultural war against gay sexual orientation which most people in Africa believe is targeted at destroying the cultural fabric of the African continent.
The debate and public conversations around the issue of gay sexual orientation have only just intensified. Government is obliged to prevent the breakdown of law and order and lynch mob jungle justice against perceived gay sexual practitioners. What is certain is that the last has not been heard regarding the anti-gay law as many groups are threatening to challenge the legal validity of the law just as the Western powers may provide heavy funding support for these legal challenges.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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